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Lasting peace for Colombia requires social and economic justice

By Lisa Taylor, Colombia International Team

Chanting “The people united will never be divided!”, thousands of Colombians in major cities throughout the country mobilized for peace today, April 9. Declared a civic holiday and the National Day of Memory and Solidarity with Victims, the date commemorates the April 9, 1948 assassination of populist politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán and the ensuing ten years of brutal political violence known as La Violencia that began the modern armed conflict. Taking to the streets, participants in the March for Peace demonstrated their support for the ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the largest guerrilla insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), while also seeking to vocalize victims’ demands for truth, justice, and reparations.

Since the official peace talks began in October 2012, the Colombian government and the FARC have met with unprecedented success, reaching partial accords on land reform, drug policy, and political participation.  Although the accords will not be finalized until agreements on the remaining points of victims’ reparations and implementation mechanisms have been reached, both sides have begun to take concrete steps toward peace and have received support from the international community. The U.S. government recently appointed Bernard Aronson as Special Envoy to the peace process, and last week Pope Francis announced a 2016 visit to Colombia. Peace is trending in Colombia, with hashtags of #MeMuevoporlaPaz(#IMoveforPeace) flooding Twitter and peace-themed graffiti filling public spaces.

Stopping during the march, one women’s activist said she supports the peace process “because women don’t want to birth more children for the war, because we believe it is necessary for our communities to be in peace, that our communities have the opportunity to work, to have opportunities necessary for our children’s futures.” Victims further demand an end to militarization, investigation into state crimes, reparations for victims, an end to impunity (currently above 90 percent for most crimes), and the right to know the truth about who ordered and carried out human rights violations. This last demand for a comprehensive truth commission would shed light on state, paramilitary, and multinational actors who together account for far more human rights violations than guerrilla groups.

Another issue not on the table in Havana is Colombia’s neoliberal economic model – a model adopted during the wave of Structural Adjustment Policies imposed on Latin American countries by the U.S. government, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a condition for debt relief – that has been enthusiastically defended by a series of Colombian presidents. Yet Colombian social movements are making connections between economic development policies, deepening inequality and insecurity, increasing labor rights violations, criminalization of citizen expression and political opposition, and mass displacement. In a statement declaring 2015 as the year for peace and social justice, over 60 Colombian organizations affirm that the current peace “negotiations are developing in the context of a worsening world crisis marked by the accumulation of capital that generates inequality, marginalization, and an increased rate of violence.”

To date, more than seven million victims have been registered with the Colombian government’s National Victims’ Unit. This includes more than five million internally displaced people (IDPs), a statistic that puts Colombia second only to Syria in number of IDPs and corresponds to roughly 12 percent of the entire Colombian population according to the NGO CODHES. Strikingly, CODHES also finds that mass displacements increased 83% in 2012, the year in which the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) entered into effect and the year after the Colombia-founded Pacific Alliance regional Free Trade bloc and the Colombia-Canada FTA were approved. 

In such a grim context and with much national and international media narrowly focusing on the advancements of the talks in Havana, Colombian civil society seeks to develop a more profound analysis about peacebuilding.  What social, cultural, and economic guarantees must be in place for victims?  How can the March for Peace instigate deeper conversation about the role of multinational corporations and neoliberal economic policies? How can the international community, especially the U.S., support peace while also analyzing the impacts of foreign trade policies such as the FTA?

At the very least, all forms of violence including economic violence must be addressed for Colombia to build a real, lasting peace with social justice. As Marino Gruesso from the Popular Ethnic Movement of the Pacific declares, “We’re asking for social equality and political equality, because if we do not have that, there is no peace.”


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